Here is a good reason, independent of C.S. Lewis’s stature, why his book, ABOLITION, deserves the praise heaped on it. The book addresses one of the most important questions that has been considered throughout Western and, Lewis insists, human history. Is there a moral reality woven into the fabric of the universe such that we can discover what is true about right and wrong and act accordingly?

The Best Defense Is a Good Offense: C.S. Lewis’s Abolition of Man
by Micah Watson
within Book Reviews, Natural Law, Philosophy
Apr 19, 2018 10:03 pm
A new critical edition of Lewis’s 1943 classic adds a treasure trove of supplementary material. Lewis’s warnings about the consequences of jettisoning natural law remain as trenchant today as they were when delivered during the Second World War.
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Almost twenty years ago Richard John Neuhaus wrote in the pages of First Things that some people can stop reading C.S. Lewis, and some others cannot, and the latter are eventually considered to be Lewis scholars. Yet as anyone who has delved into the thought of a great thinker knows, there are scholars who have published on the subject and there are scholars who almost inhabit the thought of the thinker. These scholars publish works that help us not only understand the life and ideas of a C.S. Lewis, a G.K. Chesterton, or a Thomas More, but also shape the contours of subsequent scholarship, interpreting their accomplishments afresh for a new generation one step further removed from the original context.

Michael Ward is such a scholar, ideally situated to help shepherd Lewis studies from the care of those who may have known Lewis personally to others not yet born when Lewis passed away on November 22, 1963. Educated in English at Oxford, in theology at Cambridge, and in divinity at St. Andrews, Ward lived in Lewis’s home The Kilns as Warden in the late 1990s, is advisor to the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, author of the remarkable Planet Narnia, co-editor of the Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis, and has now provided a new critical edition of one of Lewis’s most important works, The Abolition of Man.Originally delivered as a set of three lectures at the University of Durham in 1943 before being published the next year, Abolition was not initially well received and remains underappreciated by the general public, even as several noteworthy and diverse thinkers—Leon Kass, Joseph Ratzinger, Francis Fukuyama, Wendell Berry, John Finnis—consider the work a classic for its treatment of human nature and natural law.

It is not hard to understand why Abolition is underappreciated by the general public, despite Walter Hooper’s describing it as “an all-but indispensable introduction to the entire corpus of Lewisiana.” It does not provide the whimsical narrative magic one finds in the Narnia Chronicles, or the fantastical metaphysical sci-fi adventurism of Lewis’s Space Trilogy. It lacks the everyman accessibility of the radio addresses Lewis gave during the Second World War that later became Mere Christianity, and couldn’t differ more in tone and genre from the psychologically and diabolically brilliant Screwtape in the letters bearing his name, or from Lewis’s iconoclastic reimagining of Hell and Heaven in The Great Divorce. Those who enjoy Lewis’s straightforward rational apologetics like Miracles and The Problem of Pain are more likely to appreciate Abolition, though there are significant differences here as well; Abolition does not defend Christianity or attempt to establish this or that proposition by positive argument.

Abolition is rather a serious work of philosophy that nevertheless does not fit the mold of how most philosophical work is done. It begins with what first seems a rather odd treatment of English textbooks for children and concludes with a near-apocalyptic warning about the future of humanity. Moreover, Lewis freely admits he will not be attempting to prove the validity of his position, because his position cannot be proven at all. Rather, he attempts to defend the validity of objective morality, which he refers to as the Tao, by interrogating the alternatives. And while this interrogation proceeds step-by-step in a careful manner, this is not a timid or mild-mannered book. The stakes are too high for that—humanity’s abolition is a weighty topic—and Lewis’s argument and conclusions are prophetic and his tone at times acerbic.

One of the challenges of writing about Lewis’s work is that he is such a clear and pithy writer. One is tempted to quote extensively or just refer the reader to Lewis’s various works, as few can match Lewis’s clarity or gift for the perfect analogy to illustrate a tricky concept. Nevertheless the seasoned Lewis reader and the newcomer alike can benefit from commentary about Lewis’s writings even as he will do best to read Lewis himself (advice Lewis himself gave about reading Plato and other greats).

Fortunately this new edition of Abolition does not make us choose. It includes the three lectures that compose the book, “Men without Chests,” “The Way,” and “The Abolition of Man,” and a good deal of invaluable secondary material laying out the biographical circumstances of the book and explaining references that may have become obscure in the seventy-four years since its publication. Indeed, Ward has done newcomers and experts alike a great service in not only providing Lewis’s text (fifty-eight pages), along with 105 footnotes, but also a thorough introduction (forty-three pages), commentary on the three lectures (ninety-six pages), questions for discussion, and a bibliography for further reading. This would be an ideal edition for one’s private collection, a book study group, or a college classroom.

In his supplementary materials, Ward does well to balance between explanation and evaluation. He brings his own perspective to bear on Lewis’s work, drawing out insights and implications that readers may otherwise gloss over or miss entirely. Some of these are well known but bear repeating, such as Lewis’s pointed avoidance of relying on divine revelation or Christian doctrine. Others are more speculative but nevertheless intriguing, such as Ward’s suggestion of a sort of intellectual if not consciously intentional lineage between Lewis’s Abolition, G.E.M. Anscombe’s “Modern Moral Philosophy,” and Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. He wisely attempts to avoid opining on whether Lewis’s arguments are ultimately successful and instead is content to provide the reader with the tools to discern what Lewis said, why he said it, and how his arguments work (or don’t).

While it is obvious Ward admires Lewis—and not entirely clear that he’s successful in suppressing his own views as to the argument’s merits—the secondary material in the book includes commentary from several strong critics of Lewis. And Ward can also be critical of Lewis’s style as well as the substance of his arguments, finding the third lecture of the book significantly weaker than the first two. Readers need not be concerned about a hagiographic treatment of either Lewis or Abolition.

Nevertheless there is also a good deal of praise for Abolition in the selections Ward chooses, and this for good reason. It is worth reflecting on why this odd little book struck such a chord with so many significant thinkers and retains such power nearly three quarters of a century after its publication. Lewis admirers could supply several reasons to read or reread Abolition, but here are three reasons, independent of Lewis’s stature, why the book deserves the praise heaped on it.

First, the book addresses one of the most important questions that has been considered throughout Western and, Lewis insists, human history. Is there a moral reality woven into the fabric of the universe such that we can discoverwhat is true about right and wrong and act accordingly? Or is morality something malleable, a tool for the powerful or for unguided evolution or for the flow of History, something that we need not discover but now that we have come of age can create and shape for ourselves? From Antigone’s challenge to Creon to the serpent’s asking “Did God really say?”—from Plato’s battle with the sophists to Pilate’s asking “What is truth?”—from Rousseau’s reimagined nature-less state of nature to Jefferson’s “We hold these truths to be self-evident”—from Nietzsche’s creative super men to today’s transhumanists—this is arguably the question that lies beneath all of our disputes and controversies.

Abolition addresses this perennial and paramount question, and in doing so takes the side of Antigone and Plato and the Bible and Confucius, and opposes Thrasymachus, Rousseau, Nietzsche, B.F. Skinner, and our modern skeptics. Whereas many of Lewis’s works describe and defend the Author of the moral law in both his special and general revelation, Abolition concerns itself only with the reality of the law itself, and the stark alternatives to a belief in objective morality. “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date,” Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, and thus, if Lewis is correct about the status of the moral law, we should expect his book to be forever “timely.”

The importance of the topic is not sufficient for the book’s standing, however, as there have been many good books written to defend moral reality that have fallen into obscurity. A second reason that Lewis’s work stands out is that it defends reason brilliantly in an age in which reason has fallen into disrepute. In his Screwtape Letters, published not long before Abolition, Screwtape notes that modern people no longer believe in reason. At one point human beings “knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning.” Fortunately—from the perspective of Hell—people no longer believe this. Back in the 1940s, Lewis had anticipated the advent of postmodernism, perspectivalism, and even fake news.

Lewis’s task in Abolition is therefore delicate. If people have largely rejected the legitimacy of logical reasoning, how does one make the case for the proposition that the foundational building blocks of morality cannot be established by argument, but are nevertheless real? It is quixotic to try to prove the validity of the moral law to a people averse to logical thinking, not only because of the hostile audience but because it is impossible to “prove” first principles.

Here we see a connection with a current controversy among natural lawyers, and that is how to think about the is/ought question. For Lewis’s position is squarely in the camp of those natural lawyers­­­—e.g., German Grisez, John, Finnis, Robert George—­who do not believe moral norms can be deduced from facts about human nature. Contrary to “old” natural law theorists like Ralph McInerny, Russell Hittinger, and Edward Feser, Lewis insists that “from propositions about fact alone no practical conclusion can ever be drawn.” Instead, practical conclusions can only follow from practical premises, and self-evident or basic premises at that. With theoretical reason we cannot ask for the more fundamental ground of the principle of non-contradiction, and neither in mathematical reasoning can we discover proof of the transitive principle that if A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C. So it is with practical reasoning. “You must not hold a pistol to the head of the Tao,” Lewis avers, and so he opposes moral skeptics who demand an unreasonable examination of practical reason’s credentials as well as more friendly natural law proponents who attempt to ground the validity of natural law in observable “facts” about human nature.

Because the validity of natural law’s first principles cannot be proven, Lewis does not assume that the burden is on the natural law thinker or moral realist, as there is no common argumentative framework that can accommodate the starting premises of the radical moral skeptic and the moral realist. If Lewis’s book succeeds, it does so at least in part by portraying the stark chasm between the humanity that is in accord with objective morality and a post-humanity that sees morality as one more “reality” to be manipulated by the ethically untethered techniques of modern science and political power. It is not a work of natural law theory per se, explaining the nooks and crannies of how any particular system works. It is rather a powerful defense, an offensive defense if you will, of the reality of the natural law by means of laying out the horrors involved in the alternative.

Finally, Lewis’s book continues to strike a chord because technology has advanced enough to render questions about reengineering human nature practical and no longer merely hypothetical. While the debate about the status of morality and human nature stretches back to Antigone and beyond, the means to accomplish the abolition of man and woman seem closer to reality than they have ever been. Whereas the scientific experiments Lewis describes in Abolition and its fictional counterpart That Hideous Strength had a definite science-fiction feel to them in the 1940s, the attempts to transfer human consciousness, significantly delay or even eradicate death, and bioengineer coming generations no longer feel far off in the future. They are very much live issues.

Lewis’s point in his concluding chapter is that those who have put human nature on the dissecting table to be manipulated will no longer be guided by the morality that is, or was thought to be, inextricably connected to it. Lewis knew that some, perhaps many, will welcome this brave new world. Others of us will resist this development for the sake of all men and women with all the appropriate tools and rightful powers and prayers at our disposal. Lewis’s accomplishment with Abolition is to provide one such tool among many, and we will do well to revisit it often as the debate about who and what we are continues.

Micah Watson is associate professor of political science at Calvin College. He and Justin Dyer are the authors of C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law(Cambridge, 2016).

Copyright © 2018 The Witherspoon Institute, all rights reserved.
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Place Your Bets: The Arnobius/Pascal You-Bet-Your-Life Wager

Guy McClung

Catholic Stand  April 20, 2018


Pascal & His Wager

Blaise Pascal, 1623 A.D to 1662 A.D.,  noted author, thinker, mathematician, and philosopher, is famous for positing a thought argument about death, judgment, heaven, and hell that has come to be known as “Pascal’s Wager.”  Pascal said any rational person would live as if God exists so that one, perhaps, could live in heaven. This is a summary of Pascal’s Wager:

God is or He is not. If He is, heaven is possible, an eternal paradise in which one is forever happy, having every desired totally fulfilled. Even if one is an agnostic or an atheist, one should act now on this earth as would a true believer,  in a way which would merit such everlasting happiness – and avoid, if it exists, any eternal punishment, hell,  or everlasting fire. One should “bet,” not knowing the outcome,  that heaven does exist. One should place this eschatological wager because the possible winnings, the mega-millions of eternal happiness, far outweigh the possibility of nothingness after death.

Pascal contended that any intelligent person would see the wisdom and truth of this, and would, accordingly, live a life of virtue to “win” the wager for the afterlife.


Pascal was not the first thinker to posit the wager. Protagoras, a sophist philosopher (c. 490 B.C. – 420 B.C.)  lived an implicit version of the wager. Although he was an agnostic, he still continued to worship the gods of ancient Greece.

Arnobius of Sicca, an early Father Of The Church who died around 330 A.D, stated the wager explicitly in his writings. Because of his North African Berber origins, Arnobius is also known as “Arnobius Afer.” He was a convert from paganism to Christianity.

In the only book of Arnobius to survive, Against The Pagans, he states his version of the God/eternity wager:

Since, then, the nature of the future is such that it cannot be grasped and comprehended by any anticipation, is it not more rational, of two things uncertain and hanging in doubtful suspense, rather to believe that which carries with it some hopes, than that which brings none at all? For in the one case there is no danger, if that which is said to be at hand should prove vain and groundless; in the other there is the greatest loss, even the loss of salvation, if, when the time has come, it be shown that there was nothing false in what was declared.

Arnobius vigorously defended monotheism and Christianity and the divinity of Christ, particularly by asserting the rapid spread of Christianity to most of the then-known world, its civilizing influence on even barbarians, and its agreement with some of the best then-extant philosophies.  He wrote Against the Pagans  (also known as Against The Heathen) during the emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians to rebut and demolish pagan arguments that the woes of the times were caused by the wide promulgation of Christianity throughout the Roman empire.

Arnobius’s Prayer – Sometimes We Must Be Silent

Perhaps more uplifting than his God/eternity wager is a sublime prayer written by Arnobius.  It implicitly states many positions of faith going beyond human understanding, especially the wisdom to be preferred to some of the then-current atheistic teachings and agnostic philosophies.  This prayer has been described by one scholar as “worthy of admiration”:

O greatest, O Supreme Creator of things invisible! O You who are Yourself unseen, and who are incomprehensible! You are worthy, You are verily worthy — if only mortal tongue may speak of You — that all breathing and intelligent nature should never cease to feel and to return thanks; that it should throughout the whole of life fall on bended knee, and offer supplication with never-ceasing prayers. For You are the first cause; in You created things exist, and You are the space in which rest the foundations of all things, whatever they be. You are illimitable, unbegotten, immortal, enduring for aye, God Yourself alone, whom no bodily shape may represent, no outline delineate; of virtues inexpressible, of greatness indefinable; unrestricted as to locality, movement, and condition, concerning whom nothing can be clearly expressed by the significance of man’s words. That You may he understood, we must be silent; and that erring conjecture may track You through the shady cloud, no word must be uttered. Grant pardon, O King Supreme, to those who persecute Your servants; and in virtue of Your benign nature, forgive those who fly from the worship of Your name and the observance of Your religion. It is not to be wondered at if You are unknown; it is a cause of greater astonishment if You are clearly comprehended. ( Against the Heathen)


There have been many criticisms of the logic and presuppositions of the Arnobius/Pascal Wager.  Still, even for adamant and determined atheists, there must be that nagging little voice that says (like that silly  tiny  voice that periodically tells one to buy at least one lottery ticket): “Place your bet because it might be true, you might win, and the prize is infinite.”

About the Author: Guy McClung

Guy McClung lives with his wife of 44+ years south of Houston, Texas helping inventors develop and patent their inventions. Following two stints in the seminary with the missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, total 5 years (for which he is truly and forever thankful), he came to the realization that God was not calling him to that type of vowed obedience; so he left the seminary and got married. Seven children and eleven grandchildren later, he decided to try to write some words that would convey his thanks to God almighty for blessing after blessing after blessing.


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First Things

10 April 18


Bishops get a lot of unsolicited mail from strangers, some of it pleasant, some of it much less so. It goes with the job. But every once in a while a letter comes in that’s worth sharing with a wider audience.

Last month, in preparation for the October 2018 synod, roughly 300 young adults from around the world gathered in Rome to discuss their views of faith and the Church. The result was a valuable experience of dialogue and learning—so valuable that I think that continuing the process of listening to a wide range of young adult experiences is important. In that spirit, I offer a letter below, which I received just afterthe March pre-synod gathering. It was unsolicited and from a stranger—but hardly the first such letter to come my way. Though I’ve removed the author’s name and other identifiers, the content is unchanged and used with his permission. It deserves consideration as we seek a fuller understanding of the pastoral challenges facing young adults in a changing world.

I am 26 years old, a father of three young children, and I wish to offer my perspective, shared by many of my peers, on Rome’s upcoming synod [on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment”].

Though the Church’s growing focus on evangelization of the “Nones” is encouraging, there have been recent discussions emanating from several prominent figures in Rome and throughout Church leadership regarding a so-called “paradigm shift” relative to doctrine, the supremacy of individual conscience, and pastoral accommodation. My wife and I find these developments disturbing and potentially disastrous for the evangelization of the young and the fallen-away.

We young people crave the truth and clarity of good teaching. On a secular level this is evidenced by the meteoric rise in popularity of Jordan Peterson. We crave the truth, no matter how blunt or difficult it is for us to swallow or for the shepherds of our flock to teach.

Our culture is roiled in confusion concerning the basic tenets of human nature: From a very young age, we’re deluged with propaganda that distorts basic scientific truths about gender, paints virtue and chivalry as “toxic masculinity,” denigrates the family, and desecrates the nature of sex and its fruits, especially the unborn child.

We urgently need the Church’s clarity and authoritative guidance on issues like abortion, homosexuality, gender dysphoria, the indissolubility of matrimony, the four last things, and the consequences of contraception (moral, anthropological, and abortifacient). My generation has never, or rarely, heard these truths winsomely taught in the parishes. Instead, we hear most forcefully and frequently from our bishops’ conference and our dioceses regarding the federal budget, border policy, net neutrality, gun control, and the environment.

Increasingly, we have noticed an appeasement of modern culture under the broad cloak of pastoral sensitivity, including cases of some high-profile clergy who deliberately blur the Church’s teaching regarding homosexuality and transgenderism in the name of “building bridges.” The dubia remain unanswered. Discussions of beauty in the liturgy and reverent reception of the Eucharist are mocked. Heads are scratched at decreasing Mass attendance, yet young people who look to tradition to recover our bearings are chided as “rigid.”

This shift away from clarity is demoralizing for young faithful Catholics, particularly those with a heart for the New Evangelization and my friends raising children against an ever-stronger cultural tide. Peers of mine who are converts or reverts have specifically cited teachings like Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio, and Veritatis Splendor as beacons that set the Church and her wisdom apart from the world and other faiths. Now they’re hearing from some in the highest levels of the Church that these liberating teachings are unrealistic ideals, and that “conscience” should be the arbiter of truth.

Young Catholics crave the beauty that guided and inspired previous generations for nearly two millennia. Many of my generation received their upbringing surrounded by bland, ugly, and often downright counter-mystical modern church architecture, hidden tabernacles, and banal modern liturgical music more suitable to failed off-Broadway theater. The disastrous effect that Beige Catholicism (as Bishop Robert Barron aptly describes it) has had on my generation can’t be overstated. In a world of soulless modern vulgarity, we’re frustrated by the iconoclasm of the past 60 years.

In sum, many of us feel that we’re the rightful heirs of thousands of years of rich teaching, tradition, art, architecture, and music. We young Catholics increasingly recognize that these riches will be crucial for evangelizing our peers and passing on a thriving Church to our children. If the Church abandons her traditions of beauty and truth, she abandons us.

I offer these observations without bitterness or insult, but with love for my brothers and sisters who have not received the blessing, love, and formation God mysteriously granted to me and my friends. I am not alone. Though deeply troubled by the current state of affairs, we remain hopeful; and rooted in that confidence, we’re raising large families who will inherit the future of the Church. I sincerely hope this can be conveyed emphatically at the upcoming synod, and I thank every pastor and bishop who stands as a role model for evangelizing, preaching the truth, and promoting the beauty and richness our faith has to offer.

I can add little to that kind of witness. I’ll merely suggest the obvious: The future of the Catholic faith belongs to those who create it with their fidelity, their self-sacrifice, their commitment to bringing new life into the world and raising their children in truth, and their determination to walk Christ’s “narrow way” with joy. May God grant the 2018 synod fathers the grace and courage to lead young people on that path.

Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop of Philadelphia.

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I Place Before You St. Augustine and Jorge Bergoglio; Choose The Saint


The American Catholic

Wednesday, April 18, AD 2018 by Guy McClung



St. Augustine had views on marriage, sin, adultery,  and conscience directly contrary to those of Jorge Bergolgio as stated in his proclamation Amoris Laetitia (“AL” below). Passages quoted below from the works of St. Augustine, (henceforth “St. Augustine”) and Jorge Bergoglio (henceforth “Jorge”) show how widely the views of Jorge depart from, and in many instances contradict, Church teaching.


  1. Can there be eternal condemnation ?Jorge:  “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for ever” (AL, 296).

    St. Augustine:  “The Death of the Wicked Shall Be Eternal in the Same Sense as the Life of the Saints.This perpetual death of the wicked, then, that is, their alienation from the life of God, shall abide for ever, and shall be common to them all, whatever men, prompted by their human affections, may conjecture as to a variety of punishments, or as to a mitigation or intermission of their woes; just as the eternal life of the saints shall abide for ever, and shall be common to them all, whatever grades of rank and honor there may be among those who shine with an harmonious effulgence.” (Enchiridion, Chapter 113).

  1. Can saying Hell is not eternal make it so, even if you are wearing papal white ?Jorge:  “No one can be condemned for ever, because that is not the logic of the Gospel !” (AL. 297)

    St. Augustine: “There is No Ground in Scripture for the Opinion of Those Who Deny the Eternity of Future Punishments. It is in vain, then, that some, indeed very many, make moan over the eternal punishment, and perpetual, unintermitted torments of the lost, and say they do not believe it shall be so; . . . at the suggestion of their own feelings, they soften down everything that seems hard, . . .there is no reason why they should therefore suppose that there will be an end to the punishment of those of whom it is said, These shall go away into everlasting punishment; for this shall end in the same manner and at the same time as the happiness of those of whom it is said, but the righteous unto life eternal. “(Enchiridion, Chapter 112).

  1.  Is there a  Mortal Sin-Loving Adultery-Full Holy Marriage  sacramental matrimony continuum ?Jorge:  “Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized in the union between a man and a woman who give themselves to each other . . . Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way. “ (AL, 292).

    St. Augustine:  “Let us suppose another, a fornicator, unclean, lascivious, covetous, or even more openly given to idolatry, a student of witchcraft, a lover of strife and contention, envious, hot-tempered, seditious, jealous, drunken, and a reveller, but a Catholic; can it be that for this sole merit, that he is a Catholic, he will inherit the kingdom of God, though his deeds are of the kind of which the apostle thus concludes: “Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God?”  (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, Book IV, Chap 18).

    Jorge: “Whatever the case, “all these situations  [civil marriage without sacramental marriage; divorced and civil remarriage;  simple cohabitation;  de facto unions;  material poverty] require a constructive response seeking to transform them into opportunities that can lead to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel.” (AL, 294).

    St. Augustine: “Let us therefore not flatter the Catholic who is hemmed in with all these vices, nor venture, merely because he is a Catholic Christian, to promise him the impunity which holy Scripture does not promise him . . .  For, in writing to the Corinthians, the apostle enumerates the several sins, under each of which it is implicitly understood that it shall not inherit the kingdom of God: “Be not deceived,” he says: “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers,  . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  He does not say, those who possess all these vices together shall not inherit the kingdom of God; but neither these nor those: so that, as each is named, you may understand that no one of them shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, Book IV, Chap 19).


  1. Is marriage a holy “Reality” for some &  loving adultery a holy “Reality” for others ?Jorge: “ For the Church’s pastors are not only responsible for promoting Christian marriage, but also the “pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality.” (AL, 293)

    St. Augustine: “We must, however, beware of incurring the prophetic condemnation: Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. . . . Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil! For he condemns the work of God, which is the man, and praises the defect of man, which is the wickedness. .” (Enchiridion: Chapter 13).

  1. Can we enlist sympathy for innocent children to justify adultery ?Jorge: “The Church acknowledges situations “where, for se- rious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, a man and woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate” (AL 298).

    Jorge:  “I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal. . . .. This integration is also needed in the care and Christian upbring ing of their children, who ought to be considered most important”. (AL 299).

    St. Augustine:  “ . . the good sons of adulterers are no defense of adulteries . . “ (On The Good Of Marriage, Section 18).

  1. Hirelings Say To The Sinner: You Do Not SinJorge:  “ . . .since “the degree of responsibility is not equal  in  all  cases”, the  consequences  or  effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”  (AL, 300).

    Jorge:  “This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline, since discernment can recognize that in a particular situation no grave fault exists” (AL, 300, footnote 336).

    Jorge: “   Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace “ (AL, 301).

    St. Augustine: “If the hireling observe anyone indulging in wicked talking, or in sentiments to the deadly hurt of his soul, or doing ought that is abominable and unclean, and notwithstanding that he seems to bear a character of some importance in the Church (from which if he hopes for advantage he is an hireling); says nothing, and when he sees the man perishing in his sin, sees the wolf following him, sees his throat dragged by his teeth to punishment; says not to him, You sin; does not chide him, lest he lose his own advantage. This I say is, When he sees the wolf, he flees; he does not say to him, You are doing wickedly. This is no flight of the body, but of the soul. He whom you see standing still in body flies in heart, when he sees a sinner, and does not say to him, You sin; yea when he even is in concert with him.” (Sermons ON New Testament Lessons, Sermon LXXXVII).

  1. Can an individual conscience make evil good ?Jorge:  “Therefore, while upholding a general rule, it is necessary to recognize that responsibility with respect to certain actions or decisions is not the same in all cases. Pastoral discernment, while taking into account a person’s properly formed conscience, must take responsibility for these situations. Even the consequences of actions taken are not necessarily the same in all cases.” (AL, 302).

    Jorge:  “ . . . individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage.” (AL, 303).

    Jorge:  “ Yet conscience can do more than recognize that a given situation does not correspond objectively to the overall demands of the Gospel. It can also recognize with sincerity and honesty what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God, and come to see with a certain moral security that it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits, while yet not fully the objective ideal. ”(AL, 303; emphasis added)

    St. Augustine:   “But however strong may be the purposes either of angels or of men, whether of good or bad, whether these purposes fall in with the will of God or run counter to it, the will of the Omnipotent is never defeated; and His will never can be evil.” (Enchiridion, Chapter 102).

  1. Can there be God’s grace & good in the “faithfulnesss” of one adulterer to another ?Jorge:  “ . . . it  is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace . . . By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God. ” (AL, 305).

    St. Augustine:  “ . . .they [married people] owe faith alike to one another.  . . But the violation of this faith is called adultery, when either by instigation of one’s own lust, or by consent of lust of another, there is sexual intercourse on either side with another against the marriage compact: and thus faith is broken . . . But when faith is employed to commit sin, it were strange that we should have to call it faith; however of whatever kind it be, if also the deed be done against it, it is the worse done;. . . . Thus a woman, if, having broken her marriage faith, she keep faith with her adulterer, is certainly evil . . ..” (On The Good Of Marriage, Section 4).


    St. Augustine, over sixteen hundred years ago, warned about those within the Church itself who would proclaim heresy and lead the faithful into sin:

    “. . . . Nevertheless, what ought above all things to be guarded against is, that no individual may allow himself to be tempted and deceived by men who are within the Catholic Church itself, and who are borne by it like the chaff that is sustained against the time of its winnowing. . . .. Accordingly, you will have to witness many drunkards, covetous men, deceivers gamesters, adulterers, fornicators, men who bind upon their persons sacrilegious charms and others given up to sorcerers and astrologers, and diviners practised in all kinds of impious arts..  . . . . .. Consequently, when you see many not only doing these things but also defending and recommending them, keep yourself firmly by the law of God, and follow not its willful transgressors. For it is not according to their mind, but according to His truth that you will be judged . . . .Believe these things, therefore, and be on your guard against temptations (for the devil seeks for others who may be brought to perish along with himself); so that not only may that adversary fail to seduce you by the help of those who are without the Church, whether they be pagans, or Jews, or heretics; but you yourself also may decline to follow the example of those within the Catholic Church itself whom you see leading an evil life,. . . But as regards the perverse, even if they find their way within the walls of the Church, think not that they will find their way into the kingdom of heaven; for in their own time they will be set apart, if they have not altered to the better.”  (On The Catechising Of The Uninstructed, Chapter 25, Section 48, emphasis added).

    Link to Augustine’s Works: (and many other Fathers Of The Church:

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Pope John XXIII and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI

Settimo Cielodi Sandro Magister

Paul VI and the Liturgical Reform. He Approved It, But Didn’t Like It Much



“The pope wants it.” This is how Monsignor Annibale Bugnini (1912-1982), the author of the liturgical reform that followed Vatican Council II, silenced the experts every time they contested one or another of his most reckless innovations.

The pope was Paul VI, who in effect had entrusted to none other than Bugnini the role of secretary and factotum of the council for the reform of the liturgy, headed by Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro.

Bugnini had a terrible reputation among some of the members of the council. “Sinister and smarmy,” “schemer,” “as devoid of education as of honesty”: this is how he is described in the “Memoirs” of the great theologian and liturgist Louis Bouyer (1913-2004), highly esteemed by Paul VI.

Which pope, in the end, was on the point of making Bouyer a cardinal and punished Bugnini by exiling him as nuncio in Tehran, having realized the damage that he had done and the duplicity of that “The pope wants it” with which the reprobate shielded himself.

Over the subsequent decades, nevertheless, the heirs of Bugnini dominated the field. His personal secretary, Piero Marini {if Bugnini was the “liturgist from Hell”  Marini was his cellmate} was from 1983 to 2007 the master of pontifical ceremonies. And recently books have been published on Bugnini, glorifying his role.

But getting back to Paul VI, how did he experience the unfolding of the liturgical reform? The defenders of the preconciliar liturgy point to him as the one ultimately responsible for all the innovations.

In reality, between Paul VI and the reform that was taking shape little by little there was not that affinity for which the critics rebuke him.

On the contrary, it was not unusual for Paul VI to suffer on account of what he saw taking place, which was the opposite of his liturgical culture, his sensibility, the spirit in which he himself celebrated.

There is a brief book published in recent days that sheds new light precisely on this personal suffering of pope Giovanni Battista Montini over of a liturgical reform that in many ways he did not condone:

“Paolo VI. Una storia minima,” edited by Leonardo Sapienza, Edizioni VivereIn, Monopoli, 2018.…

In this book Monsignor Sapienza – who has been regent of the prefecture of the papal household since 2012 – collects various pages of the “Diaries” compiled by the master of pontifical celebrations under Paul VI, Virgilio Noè (1922-2011), who became a cardinal in 1991.

With these “Diaries,” Noè carried on a tradition that dates back to the “Liber Notarum” of the German Johannes Burckardt, master of ceremonies for Alexander VI. In his account of every celebration, Noè also recorded everything that Paul VI said to him before and after the ceremony, including his comments on some of the innovations of the liturgical reform that he had experienced for the first time on that occasion.

For example, on June 3, 1971, after the Mass for the commemoration of the death of John XXIII, Paul VI commented:

“How on earth in the liturgy for the dead should there be no more mention of sin and expiation? There is a complete absence of imploring the Lord’s mercy. This morning too, for the Mass celebrated in the [Vatican] tombs, although the texts were beautiful they were still lacking in the sense of sin and the sense of mercy. But we need this! And when my final hour comes, ask for mercy for me from the Lord, because I have such need of it!”

And again in 1975, after another Mass in memory of John XXIII:

“Of course, in this liturgy are absent the great themes of death, of judgment….”

The reference is not explicit, but Paul VI was here lamenting, among other things, the removal from the liturgy for the deceased of the grandiose sequence “Dies irae,” which in effect is no longer recited or sung in the Mass today, but survives only in concerts, as composed by Mozart, Verdi, and other musicians.

Another time, on April 10, 1971, at the end of the reformed Easter Vigil, Paul VI commented:

“Of course, the new liturgy has greatly streamlined the symbology. But the exaggerated simplification has removed elements that used to have quite a hold on the mindset of the faithful.”

And he asked his master of ceremonies: “Is this Easter Vigil liturgy definitive?”

To which Noè replied: “Yes, Holy Father, the liturgical books have already been printed.”

“But could a few things still be changed?” the pope insisted, evidently not satisfied.

Another time, on September 24, 1972, Paul VI replied to his personal secretary, Pasquale Macchi, who was complaining about how long it took to sing the “Credo”:

“But there must be some island on which everyone can be together: for example, the ‘Credo,’ the ‘Pater noster’ in Gregorian….”

On May 18, 1975, after noting more than once that during the distribution of communion, in the basilica or in Saint Peter’s Square, there were some who passed the consecrated host from hand to hand, Paul VI commented:

“The Eucharistic bread cannot be treated with such liberty! The faithful, in these cases, are behaving like.. infidels!”

Before every Mass, while he was putting on the sacred vestments, Paul VI continued to recite the prayers stipulated in the ancient missal “cum sacerdos induitur sacerdotalibus paramentis,” even after they had been abolished. And one day, September 24, 1972, he smiled and asked Noè: “Is it forbidden to recite these prayers while one puts on the vestments?”

“No, Holy Father, they may be recited, if desired,” the master of ceremonies replied.

And the pope: “But these prayers can no longer be found in any book: even in the sacristy the cards are no longer there… So they will be lost!”

They are brief remarks, but they express the liturgical sensibility of pope Montini and his discomfort with a reform that he saw growing out of proportion, as Noè himself noted in his “Diaries”:

“One gets the impression that the pope is not completely satisfied with what has been carried out in the liturgical reform. […] He does not always know all that has been done for the liturgical reform. Perhaps sometimes a few matters have escaped him, at the moment of preparation and approval.”

This too must be remembered about him, when next autumn Paul VI is proclaimed a saint.


By way of documentation, the following – in Latin and contemporary language – are the prayers that the priests used to recite while they were putting on the sacred vestments and that Paul VI continued to recite even after their removal from the current liturgical books.

Cum lavat manus, dicat:
As he washes his hands, he shall say:

Da, Domine, virtutem manibus meis ad abstergendam omnem maculam: ut sine pollutione mentis et corporis valeam tibi servire.
Grant, O Lord, that my hands may be clean from every stain: so that I may serve you with purity of mind and of body.

Ad amictum, dum ponitur super caput, dicat:
At the amice, as he puts it on his head, he shall say:

Impone, Domine, capiti meo galeam salutis, ad expugnandos diabolicos incursus.
Place, O Lord, on my head the helmet of salvation, to overcome the assaults of the devil.

Ad albam, cum ea induitur:
At the alb, as he puts it on:

Dealba me, Domine, et munda cor meum; ut, in sanguine Agni dealbatus, gaudiis perfruat sempiternis.
Purify me, O Lord, and cleanse my heart: so that, purified in the blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy eternal delights.

Ad cingulum, dum se cingit:
At the cincture, as he cinches it on:

Praecinge me, Domine, cingulo puritatis, et extingue in lumbis meis humorem libidinis; ut maneat in me virtus continentiae et castitatis.
Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and extinguish in my loins the ardor of concupiscence; so that the virtue of continence and chastity may be preserved in me.

Ad manipulum, dum imponitur bracchio sinistro:
At the maniple, as he places it on his left arm:

Merear, Domine, portare manipulum fletus et doloris; ut cum exsultatione recipiam mercedem laboris.
May I be worthy, O Lord, to bear the maniple of grief and pain: so that I may receive with joy the recompense of my labor.

Ad stolam, dum imponitur collo:
At the stole, as he places it around his neck:

Redde mihi, Domine, stolam immortalitatis, quam perdidi in praevaricatione primi parentis: et, quamvis indignus accedo ad tuum sacrum mysterium, merear tamen gaudium sempiternum.
Restore to me, O Lord, the stole of immortality, lost through the prevarication of the forefather; and although I may approach unworthily your sacred mystery, grant that I may merit eternal joy.

Ad casulam, cum assumitur:
At the chasuble, as he puts it on:

Domine, qui dixisti: Iugum meum suave est, et onus meum leve: fac, ut istud portare sic valeam, quod consequar tuam gratiam. Amen.
O Lord, who said: My yoke is easy and my burden is light: grant that I may bear this in such a way as to attain your grace. So may it be.

(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)

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CDF, Pope Reject Intercommunion Handout of German Bishops’ Conference

As the Austrian Catholic news website reports today, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – with explicit approval of Pope Francis – rejected the 22 February 2018 handout concerning the admittance, in individual cases, of Protestant spouses of Catholics to Holy Communion as it had been approved by the German Bishops’ Conference under the leadership of Cardinal Reinhard Marx. We have confirmed their report with our own sources close to the Vatican. relies for its story on “well-informed Vatican sources,” according to which this handout “has been sent back to the sender.” Only last week, there had come out reports about a letter written by seven German bishops and addressed to the Vatican, in which they ask for clarification in this matter. One of these seven bishops, Bishop Stefan Oster, had subsequently explained in detail what the objections of these bishops were.

As Oster explained in an article published in his own diocesan newspaper, “We wish to receive a clarification as to whether this expansion of the interpretation of grave emergency situations is correct.” It does not seem a “simple” thing to “share the full Catholic understanding of the Eucharist,” while at the same time remaining in another denomination; and “thus to preserve for oneself, at the same time, that confession’s own understanding, let’s say of the Last Supper.” Oster does not see how this inner contradiction could – or should – be preserved of holding two different, incommensurate understandings of Holy Communion at the same time.

Several other prelates, among them Cardinal Walter Brandmüller and Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, had raised their voices in opposition to the German Bishops’ Conference and its new push for pastoral novelties with regard to intercommunion.

Cardinal Gerhard Müller, himself the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also recently insisted that the German bishops, with their new handout, should not lead the faithful “into confusion.” He explained that any ecumenical effort has to lead to a conversion to the Catholic Faith:

There would be only ecumenical progress if we came closer to the great goal of the unity of Christians in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The precondition for this, however, would be the recognition of the sacramentality of the Church and of the fact that we have no power of disposal over the Sacraments. Here, one would first have to clarify whether bishops’ conferences do not step over their own area of authority in individual cases.

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Priests are performing exorcisms over the phone, cardinal claims

Rising demand means priests are saying some prayers over the phone, Cardinal Simoni said

Priests have been carrying out exorcisms over the phone as demand continues to rise, a Cardinal has said.

Speaking at the Vatican’s annual exorcist training conference in Rome, Cardinal Ernest Simoni said priests are delivering prayers of liberation, part of the exorcism ritual, remotely.

“There are priests who carry out exorcisms on their mobile phones. That’s possible thanks to Jesus,” he said.

However, some warned that the practice was not wise, as people who are possessed often writhe around violently and have to be restrained during exorcisms.

Professor Giuseppe Ferrari said: “Priests pray with people on the phone to calm them down, but if you are not there you cannot control the physical aspects. Some exorcists say it is effective. Whether it is orthodox or correct, I couldn’t say.”

Around 250 priests from 50 countries are attending this year’s conference at the Regina Apostolorum university as prelates from around the world report an increase in demand for exorcisms.

The course started in 2004, and since then the number of priests attending each year has more than doubled.

Earlier this year, Irish priest Fr Pat Collins said calls were rising “exponentially” and added that he was “baffled” Church leaders were not doing more.

“What I’m finding out desperately, is people who in their own minds believe – rightly or wrongly – that they’re afflicted by an evil spirit,” he said.

“I think in many cases they wrongly think it, but when they turn to the Church, the Church doesn’t know what to do with them and they refer them on either to a psychologist or to somebody that they’ve heard of that is interested in this form of ministry, and they do fall between the cracks and often are not helped.”

Last month, Italian exorcist Fr Benigno Palilla said there had been a surge in demonic activity in the country, and that Italy needed many more exorcists.

In his most recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis warns that the devil is not a myth but a “personal being who assails us”

“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea,” the Pope wrote. “This mistake would leave us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”

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“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No.’ Whatever is more than these is of the evil one.” Matthew 5:37

Interview with Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane on the subject of sodomy

MR SPEERS: That’s a fair point, what’s done, and whether that relationship is loving, whether it’s mutually giving…
MR SPEERS: …whether it’s monogamous and so on but if it is all of those things…
MR SPEERS:  …is it ok a gay relationship in the eyes of the Church?  Let’s leave marriage to one side. Is a homosexual relationship?
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE:  It can have much about…
MR SPEERS: If it’s all of those things, is that ok?
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE: It can have much about it that is wonderfully good and creative and loving. And anywhere you find genuine love – and here I’m not lapsing into sentimentalised discourse…
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE: Anywhere you find genuine love, and the kind of self-giving and self-sacrifice that that entails, you’re dealing with something good, so to stand up in some pulpit and condemn that doesn’t deal with the reality either of human experience or even the reality of God, perhaps particularly the reality of God.  So [indistinct] has to be assessed…
MR SPEERS:  And [indistinct] interesting point because I think this has been muddied [indistinct] debate, what the Catholic Church position is on homosexuality.
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE:  A lot of things have been muddied…
MR SPEERS:  Yeah indeed.
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE: …and this is one of the things that has been most muddied. 
MR SPEERS: Yeah, and this is important to clear up, the Catholic Church view on homosexuality but also homosexual activity.  There is no problem from the Church’s point of view with that?
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE: Look, there is a problem, but to say that is not to say nearly enough, again because it focuses upon the act…
MR SPEERS:  And what’s the problem?
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE:  …in a vacuum. The problem is precisely focusing upon the act , that you’ve mentioned, in a vacuum. The act has to be set within the context of a relationship, so to assess the act you need to assess the relationship.  And with same sex relationships there’s the same variety in relationship as there is in heterosexual relationships.  [indistinct]
MR SPEERS:  Yeah.  So this gets back to the point, as long as it’s in a relationship that’s monogamous, giving and loving and so on, then it’s ok by the Church?
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE:  Well, no what – no what I’m saying, David, is that – that the – the – the act within the context of a faithful, loving relationship is very different from a one-night stand. I state the obvious.  
MR SPEERS:  Sure.  But if it is all of those things, is it ok by the Church?  Homosexual activity is ok in the Catholic Church’s eyes?
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE: What – what do you mean by – what do you mean by…
MR SPEERS:  I mean – I mean homosexual activity..
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE:  You want me to lapse into – do you want me to lapse into – no, but David, do you want me to lapse into black and white, all or nothing?  That’s the very language [indistinct]…
MR SPEERS:  No, no, no, I’m just ask whether it is at all ok if it..
ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE: Because all or nothing [indistinct]…
MR SPEERS:  …if it meets the criteria that you’ve been discussing here, whether it’s in a loving, monogamous relationship, is it ok by the Catholic Church?

ARCHBISHOP COLERIDGE:  No, I’m not – I’m not going to use your language ‘cause it’s the language of black and white, all or nothing. What I’m saying is that there can be something good and creative in that relationship.

{The above is a verbatim transcript of a interview given by Brisbane’s Archbishop Coleridge to a television news anchor.  Below is the letter Aussie Richard Stokes sent to all of Australia’s bishops along with a copy of the above transcript.}
Dear Australian Bishops
Now that the battle against the introduction of ‘gay’ marriage has been lost, some in the laity are seeking to determine what went wrong, so that we can better prepare ourselves for the next battle.
I attach a video of Archbishop Coleridge on ABC discussing Catholic teaching on sodomy.  It is part of a larger clip, but the remaining sections make little or no difference to the context.  And the video is available on line, should anyone need to verify detail.  A transcript is attached to this email.
Listening to the video, I find it difficult to work out exactly what the Catholic Church teaches on same sex ‘marriage’.
Why is it so hard to say that sodomy is an unnatural and evil act; that it is scandalous because it involves two people; that it is a sin crying out to Heaven for vengeance; and if a sodomite dies without repentance he goes to the fearful punishment of Hell and never gets out?
If this is all true, why haven’t we heard it from priests and bishops?
And if bishops had said this publicly, what difference might it have made to the result?  Could souls have been saved which will now be lost?
Richard Stokes
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Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock

Rod Dreher


How The Church Discusses Migration

This morning at the Faith Angle Forum, we’re talking about faith and immigration. The speakers are Sister Norma Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and Dr. Mark Amstutz, a Wheaton College political scientist.

Sister Norma began by telling heart-rending stories about caring for migrants coming across the US-Mexico border. Their human plight, in her telling, was quite moving.

Dr. Amstutz, by contrast, gave an argument. His basic point was that the all states have to have defensible borders. Protecting human rights and achieving justice depends on a strong, benevolent state. In the immigration debate, he said, these things have to be taken into consideration. Whatever the state decides what to do on immigration has to be done in an orderly, legal way — because this order serves the common good.

In listening to this exchange, I’m struck by the role of emotivism in this discussion. Sister Norma is clearly a compassionate woman, and has a very big heart for these desperate people. On the other hand, to me it seems that she is trying to help migrants violate the law. That’s an uncharitable way to put it, and I keep trying to find a more charitable way to look at it, but the more she explains her position, the harder it is for me to see it in any other way. Her view seems to be that her role as a Christian is to get as many of these migrants into the US as possible — this, as a matter of compassion.

Again, by contrast, Prof. Amstutz is trying to take a more comprehensive view. He described his own view as a “communitarian” perspective — one that tries to balance the wishes of the migrants with the wishes of US citizens. Amstutz said “communitarian” perspective has been discarded by “religious elites”.

One of the journalists present said that after hearing Sister Norma’s account of life at the border, he wondered why he wasn’t there at the border helping her, and why all “decent” — his word — people aren’t doing the same. That struck me as a telling moment, one that showed what a disadvantage people like Prof. Amstutz are when talking about these kinds of issues. As a political scientist, he is trying to bring a philosophical framework to discussing and analyzing immigration. He’s well-spoken, don’t get me wrong, but it’s discouraging to observe how hard it is to have a clear, rational discussion about this issue (and not just immigration).

A journalist asked the two presenters how we determine how many migrants we are to allow into the country. Sister Norma responded by saying that she was speaking to a group of kindergarten students at a Catholic school, and asked them what they thought we should do about all the migrants at the border who are fleeing terrible conditions at home.

The children said, “Let them in,” the nun said. She added, “I don’t know that Jesus would leave anybody out.”

And that was it. This is not thinking. This is emoting — and it is emoting just as much as the kind of rhetoric that Trump uses when he discusses immigration. Sister Norma is a vastly more genial person than many of the anti-immigrant hotheads are. But it’s still substituting emotion and sloganeering for hard thought about difficult questions.


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Rendering to Caesar

We must render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but who gets to say what is Caesar’s – Caesar  alone, or does God have a say?

Some of us will stay up late tonight to file taxes on Tax Day. But Thursday is arguably more important. It marks “Tax Freedom Day”, the date up to which we must corporately work to pay off the 30 percent of GDP taken away by federal, state, and local taxes. An entire third of our useful labor is spent funding the government. What does the Church have to say about this?

At the start of modern Catholic social thought, Leo XIII warned that government would be able to achieve its beneficent goals, only “provided that a man’s means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation. The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.” (Rerum novarum, 47)

But what counts as fair? Presumably, that judgment could be reached, only by those adept at apportioning out the joint roles of “nature” and of “man” – not an especially strong suit for us today.

This much seems correct: a fair tax burden would need to be something short of what “drained and exhausted” taxpayers. Thus a limit on government is implied. The classical and scholastic concept of taxes was: financing for the necessary activities of government. It was expected that there would be a match between what government reasonably attempted to do, and the burden that taxpayers could bear.

Now suppose a tax burden, accurately calculated, would “drain and exhaust” taxpayers: then ipso facto the government would be overreaching. Start with the premise that the current $120 trillion in “unfunded” liabilities, if accurately assessed, would imply a crushing tax burden: it follows that government must reduce its ambitions, and civil society must expand.

St. John Paul II was taking a similar approach when he taught, repeatedly, that tax policies should aid the family. In doing so, he was echoing a magnificent paragraph in the Vatican II document on lay apostolate, which bears quoting today:

It has always been the duty of Christian married partners but today it is the greatest part of their apostolate to manifest and prove by their own way of life the indissolubility and sacredness of the marriage bond, strenuously to affirm the right and duty of parents and guardians to educate children in a Christian manner, and to defend the dignity and lawful autonomy of the family. They and the rest of the faithful, therefore, should cooperate with men of good will to ensure the preservation of these rights in civil legislation and to make sure that governments give due attention to the needs of the family regarding housing, the education of children, working conditions, social security, and taxes; and that in policy decisions affecting migrants their right to live together as a family should be safeguarded. (Apostolicam actuositatem, 11)

This rich and sharp teaching on taxation is presented in a highly attenuated form in the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine: “Tax revenues and public spending take on crucial economic importance for every civil and political community. The goal to be sought is public financing that is itself capable of becoming an instrument of development and solidarity.  Just, efficient and effective public financing will have very positive effects on the economy, because it will encourage employment growth and sustain business and non-profit activities and help to increase the credibility of the State as the guarantor of systems of social insurance and protection that are designed above all to protect the weakest members of society.” [355]

The Compendium presumes that the State has the function of redistribution, and its sole comment about the family and taxation falls under that idea: “In the redistribution of resources, public spending must observe the principles of solidarity, equality and making use of talents. It must also pay greater attention to families, designating an adequate amount of resources for this purpose.”

As for the Catechism, its only comment on taxes is that tax evasion is unjust. [2409]

More troubling, though, than what seems to be a lack of balanced skepticism about taxes in these sources is the lack of attention to the tax-exempt status of churches. How do we ensure that a church and its property are rendered to God not Caesar?

We are at risk. Even though the exemption is deeply entrenched in U.S. tradition, law, and tax policy, we can expect it will come under greater attack, as Christians are increasingly castigated as “enemies of the human race” (as Justice Scalia warned). In the popular mind an exemption is a favor: How, then, can the government show such favoritism without violating the First Amendment?

Caesar himself has given some answers. Churches often provide services that government might otherwise have to provide. Churches do not engage in any economic activity that generates taxable income. If church property were taxed, churches could hardly be built in cities, where people live. Whatever can be taxed can be destroyed, but the government should not have the power to destroy any religion.

And yet, Caesar’s guide is always expedience. And, besides, the deepest answer comes from God, not Caesar. It pertains to the independent sovereignty of the Catholic Church, enjoyed analogously by Christian churches and other religions, and explained by Leo XIII: “The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each.” (Immortale Dei 13)

Michael Pakaluk, an Aristotle scholar and Ordinarius of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, is professor at the Busch School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America. He lives in Hyattsville, MD, with his wife Catherine, also a professor at the Busch School, and their eight children.

Michael Pakaluk

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